Jewish comedy writer and TV personality Denis Norden died aged 96 on Wednesday 19 September. Judi Herman recalls the joy of meeting him in 2009, with clips illustrating his wit and warmth
His voice was somehow dry and warm at the same time. You could hear the wit, the twinkling smile, the delight in finding the funny in everything. Denis Norden was beloved by millions as one half of his partnership with Frank Muir that brought radio listeners (or wireless back then) all the fun of comedy programmes. Like post-war comedy broadcast Take it from Here, with Dick Bentley, Jimmy Edwards and June Whitfield, and the delightful My Word! and My Music, two celebrity panel shows with stars who wore their erudition lightly.
Muir and Norden were famous for witty shaggy dog stories in My Word!, working towards punchlines you never saw coming. For My Music, Norden unearthed wonderfully obscure songs with hilariously daft choruses and sang them with that same twinkle. And, of course, Norden is most loved by TV viewers as the man behind – and in front of – It’ll Be Alright on the Night. The programme was consistently packed with laugh-out-loud bloopers from all sorts of TV shows.
In August 2009 I had the joy of meeting him at his Golders Green home to chat through his career. Macular degeneration meant his sight had deteriorated, but nothing could stop the mischievous glint and warmth in his eyes, framed by huge pebble glasses, as he reminisced. You can listen again to extracts from our chat, starting with Norden’s early career as a teenage cinema manager in Watford. He truly is one of the nicest men I have ever been lucky enough to meet. Denis Norden will be sorely missed.
By Judi Herman